It Is Time To Reconsider How We Define Peace

“Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible. So, together, let us be resolved to see that it is defined by our hopes and not by our fears. Together, let us make peace, but a peace, most importantly, that will last.” – Barack Obama, September 21, 2011 at the United Nations

In the five years since being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” President Barack Obama has earned a bit more of a dubious distinction. Obama has bombed more countries in his tenure as president than any other U.S. president in post-WWII history.

Most of the countries on Obama’s list were also bombed at different times by American presidents since Reagan, but no single president has bombed all of them (with the exception of Obama): Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan.

While “peace” is generally defined as the absence of war, it seems that our current definition is one of successful (or at least active) foreign policy intervention.

This is the continuation of a seemingly dangerous strategy in American policy. Prior to WWII, American strategy was based on isolation and neutrality; the Cold War was fought on the ideology of containment; yet the so-called “War on Terror” is being fought as America’s first pro-active war.

Long after the bombs stop falling, America’s pro-active commitment to confronting terrorism will haunt us. Two issues in particular are already manifesting themselves:

  1. The political fallout from not dealing with equally dangerous (or greater) threats; and
  2. The reality of an arms race to avoid American bombs.

Boko Haram rivals ISIS in brutality and terror, yet we do nothing about the threat. In fact, the government knows that Boko Haram is trying to expand, is using the same techniques and tactics used by al-Qaeda to evolve into a major organization, and is wholly intent on striking increasingly large targets.

How do we pick and choose where we will react to the global threats of radical Islamic states and terrorist organizations? Once we do pick, what do we do when a greater threat arises?

During the Cold War, diplomacy was “easy.” Smaller nations picked sides and for the most part were left alone by the other side. Smaller nations are now left to their own defense, and this is sparking a new generation of arms races in the smaller nations. The creation of an “armed peace” will only worsen future foreign policy crises.

Peace isn’t just the absence of war or making sure that the “bad guys” can’t do harm — and peace is definitely not about winning at all costs regardless of consequences.

Peace and justice are inextricable principles — one cannot exist without the other. While justice demands that we respond to the threat of “bad guys,” the very principles of justice cannot be undermined by doing so.

This is the very essence of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s famous quote, “In the rush for justice it is important not to lose sight of principles the country holds dear.”

We need a better definition of peace — one that considers what kind of a nation we will be after we stop dropping the bombs.